Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation

Donald Trump recently announced that the United States would be withdrawing their troops from Syria. This raised questions about the fate of the Kurds who had been supported and used by the US, but are opposed by Turkey.

Trump has answered in his typical bluster and threat style, via Twitter:

“Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone…Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

What if the Kurds attack Turkish forces? Should Turkey not respond for fear of economic devastation?

What if Russia…? What if Iran…?

What would economic devastation mean for Turkey and the Middle East and the Mediterranean?

Reuters: Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks Syrian Kurd militia

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara on Monday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the NATO allies.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Speaking in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he did not think the threat would change plans to withdraw troops from Syria. Asked what Trump meant by economic devastation, he said: “You’ll have to ask the president.”

“We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things, Pompeo said, adding he had not spoken with Ankara since Trump’s comment.

So it sounds like Trump’s Secretary of State doesn’t know what the hell Trump is playing at. This isn’t an unusual situation for Trump’s administration. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syrian withdrawal announcement.

Trump has already impacted significantly on the Turkish economy.

Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the United States. A diplomatic crisis last year, when Trump imposed sanctions on two of President Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

Things are getting crazier, with Trump letting loose on Twitter making seemingly impulsive, destablilising (for his Administration and for the world) and potentially devastating pronouncements.

Reuters Explainer: Where do the Kurds fit into Syria’s war?

The future of Kurdish-led swathes of northern and eastern Syria has been thrown into doubt by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops who have helped secure the territory.

The region, roughly a quarter of Syria, is the largest chunk of the country still outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran.

Syrian Kurdish leaders fear Turkey, which sees them as a threat, will use a U.S. pullout as an opportunity to mount an assault into northern Syria.

This has driven them to talk to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of agreeing a deal to protect the region and safeguarding their political gains.

The Russians will be quietly looking for any advantage they can take over the Us withdrawal from Syria.


The main Syrian Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), began to establish a foothold in the north early in the war as government forces withdrew to put down the anti-Assad uprising elsewhere. An affiliated militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), secured the region.

Early in the conflict, their control was concentrated in three predominantly Kurdish regions home to roughly 2 million Kurds. Kurdish-led governing bodies were set up.

The area of YPG influence expanded as the fighters joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (IS), becoming the spearhead of a multi-ethnic militia alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF influence widened to Manbij and Raqqa as IS was defeated in both. It has also reached deep into Deir al-Zor, where the SDF is still fighting IS. The SDF, which also includes Arab and other groups, says it has more than 70,000 fighters.

Kurdish leaders say their aim is regional autonomy within a decentralized Syria, not independence.

The Syrian Government would probably not react well to an bid for full independence.


The PYD is heavily influenced by the ideas of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights. Ocalan has been in jail since 1999 in Turkey. He is convicted of treason.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey says the PKK is indistinguishable from the PYD and YPG.

So the US has been supporting an organisation they have designated terrorists?

Turkey has a Kurdish minority equal to 15 to 20 percent of its population, mostly living in eastern and southeastern areas bordering Syria. Wary of separatistism, Turkey views the PYD’s Syrian foothold as a security threat.

Turkey has already mounted two cross-border offensives in northern Syria as part of its efforts to counter the YPG.

Now Trump has threatened Turkey not to do that.


Syria’s Baathist state systematically oppressed the Kurds before the war. Yet the YPG and Damascus have broadly stayed out of each other’s way during the conflict, despite occasional clashes. They also have been seen to cooperate against shared foes, notably in and around Aleppo.

The YPG has allowed the Syrian state to keep a foothold in some of its areas. The YPG commander told Reuters in 2017 it would have no problem with the Assad government if Kurdish rights are guaranteed in Syria.

But Damascus has long opposed Kurdish autonomy demands and talks between the two sides last year went nowhere.

It’s complicated. And difficult to see a lasting solution.


The territory held by Damascus and the Kurdish-led authorities accounts for most of Syria. A political settlement – if one could be reached, perhaps with Russian help – could go a long way to stitching the map back together.

Anti-Assad insurgents, though defeated across much of Syria by the government and its allies, still have a foothold in the northwest stretching from Idlib through Afrin to Jarablus. Turkey has troops on the ground in this area.

The rebels include Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army groups and jihadists.

Assad also wants Turkey out as he vows to recover “every inch” of Syria.

It’s very complicated.

I don’t think Trump can deal with complexities, apart from making them more complex with his ad hoc impulsiveness and threats.

Some good may accidentally emerge from his approach, but there is a far greater likelihood he will make things worse.

Russia will be seeing how they can benefit from all of this. I can’t see Trump deliberately aiding Russia here, but that is a highly likely inadvertent outcome.


Leave a comment


  1. David

     /  15th January 2019

    Its fairly simple, Trump wants the US out of there and Turkey and the Kurds had better get along and if they dont well its their own silly fault. The world seems to want Trump to be the worlds policeman while berating him for being a dangerous loon, the commentators need to make up their minds.
    If Turkey goes in then huge sanctions will happen and if you cast your mind back a few months at the hit Turkey took when they didnt release the Pastor and how quickly the did when Trump demanded it Ankora has a real and recent experience of annoying the US.
    If the Kurds continue their terrorism then Turkey will smack them hard and its their own fault.
    Seems like the perfect solution, cant have the US permanently based in Syria uninvited that is ludicrous.

  2. Gezza

     /  15th January 2019

    Aljazeera tv over the past few days, prior to Trump’s tweet has shown the Turkish forces & taknks and artillery massing on the border and around Manjib making all the dispositions for an imminent ground offensive against the YPG; it was clear that the offensive was about to begin. Commentators said the YPG was likely to enter into an agreement with Assad for the Syrian forces to join them in opposing the offensive.

    Both Erdogan and the Turkish foreign minister have reacted angrily & were shown doing so in public to Trump’s tweets; they see the YPG as a serious threat. Interestingly though the Turks had been proposing a YPG-free buffer zone as one possible solution themselves earlier. Their foreign minister was loudly incensed that the President of the US has actually threatened to destroy a long-term member of NATO.

    The YPG and PKK links are stronger than has generally been reported in the West & it is clear that Turkey has to do something about them as the PKK is a genuine terrorist organisation who are determined to inflict harm wherever possible to Turkish citizens in pursuit of their aim of a separate state, although Kurds are not the only ethnic groups in their Kurdish regions.

    It’s definitely a mangled mess of competing forces, Syria. Trump creating another crisis with his threat tweets may put the brakes on Turkey who might just bluster and chafe at the bit but will have to consider how to cope with the economic damage if they proceed.

    Turkey’s relationships with Iran and Russia are closer than ever before. While senior US officials have been running around the Middle East right now trying to build diplomatic and military alliances between all the GCC countries, including Qatar and its supporters among those who haven’t joined the blockade, and the Saudis have apparently told Pompeo they agree they’ve agreed to scale back their operations in Yemen, those 6 countries including Egypt in the alliance against Qatar have flatly refused to stop their blockade & obviously can’t be trusted.

    Pompeo has cancelled the rest of his tour to return home for the funeral of a family member of his wife and there’s every indication he’s given up for now.

    Erdogan called Bolton “a paper pusher” and refused to even see him.

    Qatar has been granted an exemption from punishment for its close relations with Iran because Iranian airspace is their only available air corridor; all the others have been closed to them, and of course the biggest US base in the ME is in Qatar.

    Given all these competing forces, something is going to blow. All these meetings between Erdogan and Putin and Rouhani are cooking something up, no doubt scenarios and strategies have been worked on.

    • Gezza

       /  15th January 2019

      When Pompeo was in Qatar the Emir apparently told Pompeo they have given up trying to integrate with other GCC countries, they’ve left the OECD, they’ve survived the blockade, restructured their economy and economic arrangements to do so, and are just going to go it alone with their current arrangements and new ME and global arrangements. Many GCC countries are deeply suspicious of Bolton who has advocated the US attacking Iran. He’s seen as ineffective and irresponsible.

      • artcroft

         /  15th January 2019

        Good research there. A-

        • Gezza

           /  15th January 2019

          Well, tbh, I haven’t been watching so much of Aljaz just lately & on occasion I just get lost as there’s so much going on. Trump’s created chaos to the extent that nobody trusts the US or any agreement they’ve got or that might be proposed. Pompeo’s whole tour was to try and build an alliance against Iran and persuade the blockaders to stop the crap with Qatar. It isn’t happening. Once the Saudis and any others get their military supplies from the US watch out. And the Saudis will be a disaster.

  3. High Flying Duck

     /  15th January 2019


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